Saturday, February 10, 2007

G. Mick Smith, review of Armstrong, Karen, The Great Transformation, Choice, February 2007.

The following review appeared in the February 2007 issue of CHOICE.

44-3239 BL430 2005-47536 CIP
Armstrong, Karen. The great transformation: the beginning of our
religious traditions. Knopf, 2006. 469p bibl index ISBN 0375413170,

In this current age of "the great transformation," independent scholar
Armstrong postulates how the sages of the foundational Axial Age would
address unspeakable horror, violence, and desperation. The distinctive
and historic Axial Age faiths announced the abandonment of selfishness
and a spirituality of compassion. They stated that first must come
personal responsibility and self-criticism, and that practical,
effective action must follow. Herein lie the problematic aspects of
Armstrong's work and the reasons why this book can be misleading. Its
most serious flaw is its finding evidence for ethical behavior in almost
all religious behavior and ritual. Armstrong seems to miss the insights
of René Girard and Walter Burkert, who have demonstrated how violence and the sacred are inextricably linked. Another problem is that, oddly, she states that Hitler expressed a "militant exclusion of religion from public policy." In fact, Hitler divided German Christians by founding the Patriotic Church in contrast to the Confessing Church. One other interesting side note is that Armstrong's research is based on older published works (only 36 of 284 works cited in the bibliography were
published in 2000 or later). Summing Up: Optional. Lower-/upper-level
undergraduates; general readers.

G. Mick Smith, PhD